It may not rate among Australia’s most famous infrastructure projects, but Newcastle’s Macquarie Pier was pivotal in supporting Australia’s fledgling nineteenth century economy.
4pm on Sunday will mark 200 years to the hour when Governor Lachlan Macquarie laid the foundation stone to the 1.5 kilometre link between Coal Island (Nobbys) and the mainland.
Now known as Nobbys breakwall, the pier was designed to provide a safer passageway for coal ships coming into Newcastle Harbour that would often get caught on Stockton’s perilous oyster banks.
“There was no money in having ships wreck themselves on oyster banks so the important thing was to get this public infrastructure made to get the coal shipped out as soon as possible,” Hunter Living Histories chairman Gionni Di Gravio said.
“It wasn’t just important for Newcastle, it was important for the entire Australian economy at the time because that’s what we were bankrolling.”
While Macquarie may have kicked off construction in August 1818, work ground to a halt in the early 1820s after a review by conservative-led forces found too much was being spent on the colony’s infrastructure projects.
Macquaire was also among the review’s victims and was recalled back to England in 1823.
Work recommenced in the 1830s after the community demanded that the project be finished.
The pier was finally completed in 1846.
A ground penetrating radar search in 2013 failed to uncover the original foundation stone, which original maps show was laid somewhere near where the Nobbys roundabout is today.
If it still exits the stone is likely to be covered in up to eight metres of fill material.
Despite that, Mr DiGravio hasn’t entirely given up hope that the stone could one day be uncovered.
“It would be nice to find because in the scheme of things Newcastle plays a very important part in the Australian story. I like finding evidence for what we do so we can say to the big cities that Newcastle is a big deal in the bigger picture of Australia.”
A civic service to celebrate the bicentenary will be held a Nobbys surf club at 4pm, Sunday. Fort Scratchley’s big guns will also be fired to mark the occasion.